Officials are investigating allegations of elder abuse and animal neglect going on behind the front gates of a million-dollar home in an exclusive San Diego community.
The victim's family said 90-year-old Robert Stella was kept a virtual prisoner by his caretaker, who befriended him more than 10 years ago. Police said the woman claimed to be Stella's wife.
There is extreme clutter in the front yard of the home along Avenida de las Pescas in La Jolla and neighbors say conditions inside the home are unlivable.
Family members of the homeowner called San Diego police officers and animal control officers last week after Stella was found propped up in his wheelchair on the driveway.
Miles Criscuolo said his grandfather is malnourished and dehydrated and under 24-hour care at a nearby hospital after his sister called the authorities.
“She saw him propped in the driveway here in a wheelchair and he looked to be in really sad shape. So she came down and asked him if he was alright and he said ‘No.’ She said ‘Do you need help?’ and he said ‘Yes.’ She asked ‘Do you want to get out of here?’ and he said “Yes,’” Criscuolo said.
Stella was removed from the home last Thursday by ambulance. Miles said his grandfather was treated in ICU for six days.
On Saturday, animal control officers recovered 17 dogs and cats total and kept nine in their possession.
Stella’s caregiver, described as a 55-year-old woman who has been living in the home for years, kept eight of the animals.
Officials wouldn't say what condition the animals were in, only that the department is looking into whether animal neglect or abuse charges need to be filed.
San Diego Police have confirmed that they have opened an elder abuse case, and their specialized unit is investigating.
Miles said there was an animal carcass in the hallway, animal feces, dirty walls and soiled furniture pack the house.
“It’s not pretty inside,” he said. Stella's daughter gained power of attorney last week so they could access the home. The family also issued a 30-day eviction notice for the caregiver and other squatters living there, according to Stella's granddaughter Emily Criscuolo.
He claims the caregiver is a hoarder and fails to take care of his elderly grandfather as well as the animals.
“It was really hard for us to find out what was going on inside the home because the woman who was occupying the house wouldn’t let any of the family members inside the home,” Miles said.
Emily claims her family has been trying to get the caregiver out of her grandfather's life for about six years. She said Stella met the woman in a street alley and took her in, and since then, the woman has been living with Stella under the pretense that she's caring for him.
The family will wait until the woman and additional residents have moved out before they clean up the house.
Stella was a World War II veteran and a nuclear physicist. His grandson told NBC 7 he hopes police can do something about the situation.
Check back for updates on the developing story.